NEW YORK—Ryan Serhant initially turned to New York real estate just to pay the rent and ended up becoming one of the stars of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York” TV series as a top broker with Nest Seekers International.
Serhant has parlayed his success into a new book (“Sell It Like Serhant”), a YouTube channel, and even mobile apps (Agent Empire: NYC). He spoke with Reuters for our Life Lessons series about how he embarked on his stunning career—and how others can do the same.
Q: Did your entrepreneurial streak show up early on?
A: My brother and I started working when we were little kids. We sold firewood to our neighbors when I was only 10 years old. But it wasn’t really a success, and I kind of sucked at it. Because we couldn’t drive, we had to hire a guy with a pickup truck, and one day he got [mad] and just took off. After that the business came crumbling down.
Q: Were your early acting years the typical story of the starving artist?
A: When my grandfather died he left me $40,000, which was the most money I had ever seen in my life. I thought it would last me 10 years in New York City. Of course the money quickly ran out, so I turned to hand modeling. I did a lot of that—you’d be surprised. I held things like AT&T phones and Nespresso pods and made $150 an hour. They called me “Ryan Serhand.”
Q: What was it like to make a big career transition to real estate?
A: In 2008, I bit the bullet and got my real estate license. I was trying to find a way to pay rent, and I didn’t want to start bartending or waiting tables, and then still be doing that 20 years later. So real estate was another way to work with people. I was good at memorizing things about listings, and could set my own hours. Eventually I got addicted to it and became a deal junkie.
Q: Did your acting history help you in the real estate business?
A: It’s the same talent, and the same muscle. I make all my team members take improv classes, because you become a better businessperson if you know how to improv. It’s about saying yes, and adapting to situations. That’s sales. That’s business.
Q: How did those lean years shape your understanding of money?
A: I saved as much as I possibly could, and still do. I was always afraid of having no money. Even now I don’t think of myself as rich. I distinctly remember the day I had my debit card declined at the Food Emporium, and I had to leave the grocery store with tears in my eyes. I promised myself I would never go back to that moment.
Q: Since you make a living at real estate, is that where you invest your personal money too?
A: It’s important to invest in what you know. So I do invest in a lot of townhouses and apartments. I see deals 50 times a day, and I know what’s a good deal or a bad one. If my clients pass on a good deal, I’ll jump on it.
Q: Why is your giving so New York-focused?
A: I wouldn’t be where I am were it not for New York City. So any money I make is honestly the house’s money. I don’t understand people who don’t give back, because the city has done so much for me. So I work with a lot of organizations doing good work locally, like City Harvest and Robin Hood and Ronald McDonald House.
Q: You are looking to start a family with your wife Emilia, what lessons do you plan to pass along to your kids?
A: Daddy comes first! A lot of kids in NYC grow up as complete brats, because they are raised with the idea that they come first. That’s just not true. So I want them to understand the value of work and the power of a dollar, the same way my dad taught me. Growing up I resented him a lot—but now I am very thankful.
By Chris Taylor